Disney World News: Monorail Attraction, Plummeting Numbers, Dining Changes
It’s time for another Walt Disney World news & rumor round-up! We have tidbits from EPCOT, Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and some good news for Annual Passholders. First, a look at some plummeting stats–both good and bad–which speak to Florida’s slow summer season and beyond.
Visit Florida has released the state’s second quarter tourism numbers, showing a 60.5% drop in visitors, with travel from Canada down 99.1% and overseas travel down 91% (the last number should be higher). As reopening efforts began in May and June, 12.8 million people–almost entirely from other states–visited Florida during the second quarter. That’s a drop of roughly 20 million visitors year over year.
The outlook remains bleak for Florida in the third quarter, as cases spiked towards the end of June and through early August. Florida’s status as a hotspot tainted visitor perceptions and led to a sea of cancellations, while also causing trepidation and apprehension in booking future trips. The lasting damage will undoubtedly stretch into the fall and winter. In an attempt to remedy this, Visit Florida has budgeted $13 million to market the state’s tourism rebound…
On the plus side, it’s now been over one month since all four theme parks at Walt Disney World reopened, and predictions of the parks fanning the flames on Florida’s growing case numbers have not come to fruition. In fact, the opposite has proven true, with Florida’s Department of Health reported 2,678 new cases Monday–the lowest number since June.
Even more promising is data released by Orange County showing that only 5.6% of tests were positive; the lowest figure since June 14, before cases surged post-Memorial Day. That percentage is also well below the Florida average despite Orlando being more population-dense and the county being home to numerous theme parks and tourist attractions.
Dr. Raul Pino, the state’s health official in Orange County, told the Orlando Sentinel he’s happy to reach a lower level of infections but cautioned that Orange County “will see increases after schools start because that’s the experience in other markets.” However, Pino does not expect any school-induced spread to “go wild” at this point since positivity rates are so slow.
Given the above numbers, it should be unsurprising that there’s yet another Disney Park Pass availability update. Only a few days after the last inventory reallocation for August and September 2020, Walt Disney World has once again redistributed reservations from the theme park ticket holders and resort guest “buckets” to Annual Passholders.
Consequently, there’s currently availability for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and EPCOT beginning today (August 18) and Disney’s Hollywood Studios beginning August 24, 2020. Weekends are still harder to come by, with nothing for DHS until Halloween.
If you’re a tourist worried that this redistribution means a spike in crowds–don’t be. We’ve noticed weekday decreases even after the last inventory reallocation, and that’s likely to continue as more schools in Florida and the South go back into session. Weekends are a different story, so plan accordingly. (We’ll have a Magic Kingdom Weekend Photo Report very soon.)
While we are staunch ‘low crowd enthusiasts,’ the total lack of guests on some of our visits has been eerie–and downright concerning. It’s one thing to enjoy a serene stroll around World Showcase post-closing, it’s another entirely to see only a handful of other guests at 2 pm. Ditto walking onto Avatar Flight of Passage in late afternoon. Or being able to do snow angels in Fantasyland’s “Irvine Alley” as we could’ve yesterday (see below).
Judging by reader comments, we all want longer park hours and more to return as soon as possible. That won’t happen until crowds pick up to some degree; filling in some of the vast expanses of empty space with APs will help towards that. The rest of this month through October are likely to be really slow tourism-wise, and giving Annual Passholders more access to the parks will aid in offsetting that.
There are absolutely ways for Walt Disney World to improve its ‘temporary abnormal’ operations, but the threshold issue is getting more people through the turnstiles. Fans can’t demand ghost town crowds and late hours–that does not compute. There needs to be a happy medium. With Annual Passholders more likely to show up after work and do dinner, hopefully this is a first step in getting longer hours in November and December as well as more dining options. That’s a win-win scenario.
Speaking of both dining and Walt Disney World operating tweaks, Disney has confirmed that select restaurants in Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will seat guests for an hour after park closing in September and October, despite the reduced hours.
Thus far, this policy only impacts Be Our Guest Restaurant, Liberty Tree Tavern, 50’s Prime Time Cafe, and Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant. It’s reflected on the official site of each, and you’ll also find post-closing Advance Dining Reservations (subject to availability…which is pretty limited for Be Our Guest and Sci-Fi Dine-In).
Interestingly, we could not find any EPCOT restaurants that will officially seat guests post-closing. This is despite first learning about this policy change from readers who were told that their post-closing reservations at various EPCOT restaurants would be honored. (We don’t have impacted reservations at any EPCOT restaurants…if you do, is this still true?)
It’s also odd since World Showcase is typically the go-to spot for dining, and it seems like the third party operators would push for the same longer hours. With Annual Passholders now able to book visits easier next month, it seems like the perfect opportunity to fill more tables at EPCOT’s restaurants.
Next, a “sneak peek” at a new attraction or interactive exhibit via the forthcoming book, The Disney Monorail: Imagineering a Highway in the Sky by Jeff Kurtti, Vanessa Hunt and Paul Wolski. Per our friends at Mousesteps, the book’s final page has poster art that says “Next Stop…Play!” with artwork of several monorails, and it says “Calling all Pilots! A new way to play arrives at the PLAY! Pavilion at EPCOT in 2021.”
There’s actually a WEDWAY monorail station facade in the Play Pavilion concept art, which you can see here to the right of the “Let’s Play” tower and to the left of the Hotel marquee:
We’d caution against too much enthusiasm about this monorail experience, as the scope and scale of the Play Pavilion’s offerings is unknown. Our expectation is that it’ll essentially be a new version of Innoventions, with interactive exhibits of varying degrees of quality and ambition. (Think of the difference between Sum of All Thrills and Colortopia.)
Nevertheless, I’m really intrigued by this and it has my mind racing.
My favorite museum that I’ve ever visited anywhere, period is the SCMaglev & Railway Park Museum in Nagoya, Japan devoted to the Shinkansen, Superconducting Maglev, and other high-speed trains. (We’ve visited a lot of train/transportation museums in Japan, and most are awesome but this is the best.)
There were several times in the museum that I exclaimed, “this belongs in Epcot!” There are a ton of interactive exhibits, quasi-attractions, and even cabin simulators that allow visitors to pilot a Shinkansen or train as a crew member on a train. The simulators are solid attractions, but they’re also pretty low-capacity and seem unsuitable for a popular theme park.
A better option for EPCOT is the theater-style ride that puts guests inside a Shinkansen and Superconducting Magnetically Levitated Vehicle to showcase the differences in speed and ride smoothness. It’s just like being inside a train, except every window is a video screen. The simulation is incredibly convincing, and impressed both of us.
This is also a lot like EPCOT Center’s unbuilt “Bullet Train” Circle-Vision simulator that was once planned for the Japan pavilion. It would be cool to see something like this finally come to fruition in the Play Pavilion. If a museum can do it, Disney certainly can. (Imagineering should just send a team to that museum; there’s so much potential inspiration for an entire transportation pavilion.)
Finally, neither news nor rumor, but we had our first sighting of the new-look Cinderella Castle illuminated during yet another spectacular sunset last night. (We’ll be sending this and other photos out in wallpaper size in tonight’s free email newsletter.)
We sat up here for a good hour, watching the kaleidoscope of colors as Florida put on a natural light show while the monorails glided by and the park began to light up at dusk. It was peaceful and relaxing–a perfect reminder of what we love so much about Walt Disney World. Everyone has nostalgia, special must-do experiences, and sentimental reasons they’re continually pulled back to Walt Disney World. For us, one big thing is simply being there while the parks come alive at night. This was a satisfying and nice taste of that…but also one that really made us yearn to experience Magic Kingdom at night. Hopefully in November!
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What do you think of this Walt Disney World news? Speculation about the Play Pavilion’s monorail attraction/interactive exhibit? Thoughts on the Disney Park Pass availability changes? Hopeful that evening hours return at Walt Disney World in November and December? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so. In every country or state where cases have gotten bad, they steadily declined a few weeks after peaking and have not surged again. The Sun Belt will do well now.
The Play Pavilion never much interested me until this monorail development. The concept art and rumors made it sound like a character meeting replacement. I’ll keep my expectations appropriately tempered until more is revealed. Thanks for the update.
I wish they would let APs make more than 3 reservations at once! I
As someone who was at WDW yesterday I can say that it’s the absolute safest I’ve felt anywhere since the pandemic hit my home (St. Louis). Disney is doing all they possibly can to the extent that current technology and smart planning allows and I rarely saw anyone breaking the rules. Those who were – usually people wearing masks inappropriately – were immediately corrected by crew members. We went to Hollywood Studios (apparently the park with the highest attendance numbers) and it was still pretty empty. I loved not having to wait for hours to ride and would definitely have no concerns about visiting one of the other parks. For me, this has been a great time to visit. That being said, we drove down rather than fky and are really in town to visit close family, so the park trip was an add-on after doing a lot of reading and research. Wear your mask and use the complimentary sanitizer (available absolutely everywhere), stick to the 6foot marks while waiting in lines, and you’re likely safer than you are at the grocery store.
Thanks for the post. We are leaving on Sunday and I have been trying to be realistic and not let my love and need of a Disney trip push me to doing something unsafe. I thought if Amy place could be safe it would be Disney. Glad I didn’t cancel and your experience makes me feel better we will be ok. Just have to be safe. Wear a mask and distance. Thank you.
Wow, what to say about WDW1974’s post? Say nothing and he won’t get the attention he is obviously striving for! We love your blog Tom and are thankful for your all your insight and help!
Attention? I am not seeking that, not here anyway. Tom and I go back a very long way. OK, not really. Just to a dozen or so years ago when he was a snot-nosed law school kid who thought he had all the answers about WDW and had never even visited DL, let alone the international parks or cruise line etc.
I am here simply to comment. I love his photography, even as touched up as it often is. I love his politics too (here’s a hint, he doesn’t agree with most of his readers!) I often agree with what he says as well.
But I do not agree with him encouraging people to visit WDW, which he is in a very lawyerly way. That’s why I am commenting. I do miss him so on MAGIC. Oh wait, I left that place for Regions Beyond years ago. Thought Disney fans were mostly bat(crap) crazy. They are.
Seriously, Spirit? Why don’t you come back to WDWmagic and play there? Attacking Tom personally seems absolutely rude….and beneath you. Or it would have been.
Tom, thanks for another interesting and informative article!
How’s the family? Job treating ya well?
I didn’t attack Tom. I made a pointed post. It is what I do. If he wanted to refute it, he would. He has been a bit passive aggressive with moi of late and feels like he is better served by not responding. Oh well, I am sure I will see him one of these days in the corpse of EPCOT. He’ll be taking photos of a food sample on a trash can before splitting in six ways with other bloggers. And I’ll be wondering why I am there and not in say TDL instead.
Stay safe, Cindy. Mask up. Wash those hands.
In your hotel stays have their been pamphlets about bounceback offers? Currently have a trip planned for the last week of October and am curious if one will be there waiting for us. . . . Thanks!!
Ughhh. I really want to go for the low crowd “eerie” experience. Plan to be there September 8 for a few days and avoiding the weekends. Low crowds or low “eerie” crowds?
Sept trip – I have dinner ADR for Yak & Yeti @5:00pm on Sept 28th made before they decreased the park hours. Animal Kingdom now closing @ 5:00pm. I haven’t gotten any email saying they need to cancel it or that i need to move. I assume it’s still on and will be able enjoy our dinner past closing.
For our 2 week trip, I moved some of our dinner SDR after park close. Our 2 visits to EPCOT moved to boardwalk & Riviera just after park close.
Most dinner ADR, I now moved outside the parks so we can get the most of our park visit and not sitting for both lunch & dinner in the park.
One question hope others can help – how soon after park close do you think we can get from EPCOT to boardwalk & Riviera. I made them for 8:00pm thinking we need the travel time. Is that too long of a time. Hate to get there and find we need to wait 1/2 hour for our ADR. We tend to stay up to and sometimes past closing – we never tend to rush out.
Our Disney Springs, dinner ADR I made about 1 hour to some being 1 1/2 hours past close for Animal Kingdom, Hollywood and Magic Kingdom. The 1 1/2 hour due to only being available. Does that give us enough time to get to Disney Springs? We are thinking going Uber for most transportation.
You can be at boardwalk in about 7 minutes, it’s a short walk. Riveria probably only about 15 minutes max on the skyliner. You definitely don’t need an hour or even 30 minutes.
Laurie – great thanks for the info
I’m starting to think that your problem with Tom has zero to do with WDW and who should and shouldn’t be visiting right now. Obviously your issue with him goes way back, and for that reason you should have had a bit more class and reached out to him directly. Instead you decided it would be better to try and embarrass him here on a site that clearly everyone who is on it, loves it. I kinda feel sorry for you, seems as though you have a case of bitter beans.
Also, I don’t think Mr. Wonderful knows you’re an attorney.
Slight Correction–Mr. Bricker is a former attorney. He was once a member of the Indiana Bar, working about a year or so as an attorney at the firm in Indy where his father-in-law was a partner, he never practiced in California nor Florida and he allowed his license to lapse in Indiana many years ago. He is not a current legal practitioner that I am aware of.
Mr. Bricker is a professional photographer, blogger, etc., etc., who happens to have earned a J.D. degree. He obviously has a passion for these other interests that legal practice could not fulfill. I am sure he doesn’t regret getting the JD up at Valpo though…good place to find a good wife I’ve heard. At least that’s what my colleague Gary Boring always said, ha!
Wait, are you saying Mr. Wonderful from the ABC hit reality show Shark Tank hangs out in these waters?
C-Law, you can’t blame Tom for not wanting to play lawyer. I don’t think he could have been successful and I say that as a compliment as I have a family of lawyers and have known far too many. It’s like the joke goes: ”What’s 98% of the country’s lawyers dead on the bottom of the ocean? A good start!”
I will go on the legal record here saying that I knew Tom was never going to be a legal eagle, even with the family help. And I sure don’t blame him for seeing that photography and travel blogging might be more enjoyable a life style than writing briefs or screwing people for a living.
But his writing … well, that shows the legal background. I bet he could write a cease and desist so fast it would make your head spin.
Still planning to go in late November – what do you think are the chances that hours will expand at least back to where they were when they re-opened? We LOVE the parks – but especially at night (teen ager loves to be a night owl :))
Keep thinking they should offer a modified park hopper just for Epcot evenings in order to increase the dinner options. I’d do that at least twice during my upcoming trip.
Agree 100%. Remove the Disney Park Pass requirement from EPCOT and/or reinstate the Park Hopper option with the condition that guests can only hop to EPCOT.
I think a lot of people would go for that, it would help with EPCOT’s attendance woes, and redistribute crowds from Disney Springs (which is getting too busy on some evenings) to EPCOT, which has more than enough extra space.
Total agreement. Even if it’s a “Epcot Evenings” or something where it’s Epcot only and only after 5p or something. Get folks into the restaurants and you coincidentally increase the value of keeping on resort reservations at Boardwalk / Beach Club / Yacht Club / Swan / Dolphin
Oh I hope they read this. I have been thinking this for a long time. No extra dinners at Epcot )other than the 2 days I have passes for) this is what is making no hopping so upsetting for me.
This is a great idea! They have so many good restaurants in addition to the Festival booths…dinner there would be so much easier than most anywhere else.
We have plans to go the first week of December, and I honestly don’t mind all the restrictions, but can’t justify for the life of me paying full price for all the things. I know they’re trying to avoid bad press but I just keep sitting here thinking “do they WANT us to cancel?”. At first I thought yes, but they keep talking about how they’re “surprised” by the number of cancellations…. seriously?!
My guess is that Disney wanted some cancellations to avoid issues with capacity–and probably would’ve more or less hit that sweet spot if Florida’s cases didn’t spike. A lot of people cancelled trips on the basis of Disney’s policy changes and cutbacks, but a ton more cancelled once things got worse in Florida.
Like so many people and businesses, Disney has been scrambling to make adjustments and learning on the fly. Some good decisions, some bad and perplexing ones. Assuming things continue to improve in Florida, I’d expect more resort discounts to entice new bookings (and prevent more cancellations). We’ll see, though!
I am in Scotland and received an email last Friday that I have to decide within 7 days whether to keep my booking for aug 2021 as they cancelled the (paid) dining plan. I don’t have a clue what to do, this might sound awful but I thought they would have worked a way or have some kind strategy to have the dining plan in action by then. I should be booking my flights shortly too and don’t know if I will or not .
You received that for *next* August already? Those emails have been going out…but usually much closer to travel dates. I’m not particularly familiar with the UK site’s booking practices/policies, but the US site has gotten way more flexible with cancellations.
Unless they’re offering a really attractive one-time discount, I’d probably just cancel and rebook later when there’s more certainty.
Yes for next aug 2021, I was surprised, I had been following some you tube updates about things happening this year I guess I hadn’t even thought it would run so far into next year. Just this last Friday they emailed. At the end of the email they said if any future offer (or words to that effect) came into place my booking would be able to have it added on with no amendment fee etc . So that kind of gave me hope they will just release and add back on the package. Just seems a lot of hassle for them sending out the amended invoice now if they know it will be going back to “normal” in months to come.
I have a strong desire to respond to a nasty comment, but instead I just want to say thanks for keeping up the blog during these crazy times! It’s a nice lunchtime escape for me each day – especially when everything is so uncertain and making plans and traveling isn’t on the table. I appreciate it!
Haha, thanks! 🙂
For years there have been rumors of Extra Magic Hours turning into paid-ticketed park add ons. This seems like the perfect time to do it. As a fan, I don’t like paying more. But give us the option to be at a park at night! And it gives the company a much needed opportunity for revenue.
They’ve been doing the “After Hours” paid events for the last few years–but cancelled the few remaining dates for this year shortly before the parks reopened.
My guess is that the event is not economically viable right now. Even with high special event ticket prices, the event hasn’t been particularly lucrative for Disney. With WDW’s attendance being disproportionately locals now, there probably is an insufficient audience for it.
Do you know if Disney has released and discounts for rooms in the fall? As cases start to fall, cheaper rooms might encourage out-of-state visitors to book. 🙂
Only for APs and Florida residents, and only through September. They’ve also quietly started unloading rooms on Priceline and Hotwire, but still nothing for the general public. I’ve been expecting it “any day now” for the last couple weeks…
When I read blog posts like this in the midst of a once in 100 years pandemic and with the US government on the verge of collapse, I can’t help but think of the book I have longed to pen about Mental Health and the Disney Fan Community. … Because you have to be bat (blank) crazy to be visiting WDW right now, let alone living the lifestyle and, frankly, the part of you who is afraid to dine in or use an elevator or fly to SoCal for a Double Double and to take pics at DD tells me your sane side absolutely sees this … even if your business side and your desire to never do more in life than be a blogger side pushes the idea that taking a WDW vacation now is an acceptable idea. I’d listen to your sane side. Although if you get sick, a Central Florida hospital probably is going to prioritize your life. I still wouldn’t want that myself.
Wow! Someone really needs to take a break from CNN.
Tim – yes, that’s his style. Take the time to read and comment on blogs with no purpose other than to denigrate the authors.
In these blogs, Tom has constantly and consistently said that he would not recommend a trip to Disney right now. Blogging about Disney is his job and he’s able to go in short spurts since he is a FL resident making visits necessary but also easier in terms of quarantining–but he has said over and over that people should do their own risk assessment.
Don’t hate on those of us who have done our own risk assessments and have decided that a trip to Disney is worth it. I’m one of these bat sh*t people you’re referring to. I’m flying there, too–the horror of horrors! I’m also under 30 and have already had the virus. I’m ready to go back to living my life. I will adhere to any safety measures that Disney and the airlines and my state have put into place, but I’m done sitting in my house all day, every day.
Focus on your own life and your own actions because those are the only things in this world you can control. I think you’ll be much more at peace if you stop worrying about whether or not people are going to Disney World.
Wow dude, I’m almost 100% sure I know who you’re voting for. Not to get into politics, but you sound a lot like the people who like to put down people who are actually doing something great for other people. This is a free country, and if people want to go to WDW, then let them. Why should it bother you. I personally am not going any time soon but that doesn’t make me want to attack. Why don’t you go out and “peacefully protest” because I’m pretty sure you’re all about the craziness that’s going on right now. How sad that you feel good about yourself for putting down a super cool human being who basically is just giving us a heads up for our future trips. Shame on you looser!!! And Tom I love what you share with us, NEVER STOP!!!
Anyone who can read basic stats can determine if this virus is dangerous for them and if they want to take a calculated risk to go someplace they love. The data is everywhere and easy to find. Try looking it up and thinking for yourself instead of just giving into fear perpetrated by the media for clicks. You sound like you could use a vacation.
I really want to be nasty to you but I won’t. What I will say is all the other people who replied to you are right on. When yo start picking on Tom I would just like to puchg you in the nose. SPLAT.
Wow! Hard to even respond to this hot mess, low blow, abuse of the pen.
Message to Tom: Ignore this nonsense. You have one of the best (likely the best) resource on traveling Disney parks I have ever seen. The commentaries are extremely informative and funny. The photos are amazing. Keep it up!
Wow WDW1974…how does it feel to be such a complete and utter tool? Not all of us are controlled by fear and the nightly news. We are out living our lives – with reasonable precautions and abiding by local authorities – but still out living our lives. As another commented, not sure why it’s any of your business who does or doesn’t go to WDW. Maybe you should go back to your basement and leave the rest of us alone.
Tom, please ignore this attention-seeking jerk. We all need some normalcy and cheer right now, and you provide that by helping us realize that even in these crazy times, even in a world of masks and social distancing, we can still experience joy, fun, and good times together. That is priceless, and so needed right now. LOVE your blog.
We use the word tool in Edinburgh too ha ha. Also bampot and numpty !
WDW is better about compliance with science than a lot of Florida; locals like Tom Bricker are probably *better* off there given the horror stories he’s referred to about local supermarkets.
“Your desire to never do more in life than be a blogger…” Yes, because blogging is so easy and such a lazy thing to do! Running one of the most trafficked Disney blogs on the Internet without having a large team requires very little effort! Producing daily high-quality content and keeping thousands of articles updated is so easy and anyone could do it.